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What does a Wildlife Rehabilitator do?

By Kathy Hawkins
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A wildlife rehabilitator is typically a volunteer who takes injured or baby native animals into her home, where she cares for the animals until they are strong enough to be released into the wild. In many countries, including the United States and Australia, a person who wants this job must take a written test to demonstrate knowledge about caring for wildlife, which results in a permit. When someone is officially registered as a wildlife rehabilitator, her name and telephone number are publicly listed in a directory, so that anyone who finds an abandoned or injured animal can bring the animal in for help.

A wildlife rehabilitator rarely has medical or veterinary experience, and instead focuses on the day-to-day care of an animal. For instance, he might bottle feed a baby animal several times a day. Some injured animals are brought to a veterinarian for treatment; however, if it appears that the animal will not be able to return to the wild after a period of rehabilitation, the animal will likely be humanely euthanized.

A wildlife rehabilitator will generally work from her own home, though some nonprofit centers specialize in treating injured wildlife. He or she may have a particular specialty. Some focus on reptiles, such as snakes and lizards, while others may specialize in caring for birds. He or she may deal with all sorts of animals, from squirrels to owls to frogs. In countries like Australia, the rehabilitator might take in baby possums, wombats, or kangaroos.

If you think you'd like to become a wildlife rehabilitator, the first step is to volunteer with a trained rehabilitator or at a licensed wildlife center, to see what is involved in the job and if it's really for you. This line of work is rarely paid, and required a high level of dedication — once you are licensed, you may be called at all hours of the day to help with wildlife situations. You must also be aware that these animals are not pets — your responsibility is to prepare them for release back into the wild. It is a difficult job, as some animals will not survive, no matter how much help you give them. If you'd still like to become a wildlife rehabilitator, though, it can be a very rewarding job.

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Discussion Comments
By giddion — On Jan 31, 2013

@seag47 – I would think that people doing wildlife rehabilitation would have an enclosed area for the animals. Coyotes could be a problem if the animals are out in the open.

However, I understand the reason for not keeping them in the house. Many wild animals stink, and you know they are going to use the bathroom in their cages, which will also stink.

Also, they probably make noises that might keep someone up at night. I think an enclosed barn would be an ideal spot for wildlife cages.

It would be even better if it were climate controlled. You wouldn't want to stick injured animals in a barn that is either scorching hot or freezing cold, because that could stress them out more.

By OeKc05 — On Jan 30, 2013

My heart goes out to needy animals, but rehabilitation of wildlife is not for me. I prefer to focus on helping dogs that have been abandoned. The risk of getting bitten is lower, since these dogs find me and want to be loved.

Wild animals generally don't want affection. I find it hard to care for something that can't love me back.

Maybe this keeps wildlife rehabilitators from becoming too attached to the animals they help. That's good, because keeping a wild animal in a cage all its life is not good.

By feasting — On Jan 30, 2013

I wonder what all is covered in wildlife rehabilitation training. Different animals have different needs, so there is no way you could learn about all of them in a short time.

I suppose that's why many rehabilitators choose certain types of animals to focus on. I know a lady who handles deer and racoons, and that is all that she takes.

By seag47 — On Jan 29, 2013

Wildlife rehabilitators can be really protective of their animals at times. My neighbor was one, and she got so upset when my dogs barked at the animals that she had in cages out in her shed.

I really don't know why she didn't keep them indoors. They were in cages, so it wasn't like they were going to run all over the house.

Her shed was open, so any animal could get in there. She said my dogs were traumatizing her squirrels. So, she really did seem to care for them.

By anon169754 — On Apr 22, 2011

i would totally want to become a wildlife rehabilitator but i live nowhere where there is much wildlife.

By anon155547 — On Feb 23, 2011

I really would like to volunteer. But as I am in college for natural resources, I also hope to eventually get a job in Wildlife Rehab.

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